August 2011: Real Estate

 In real estate, making the right investment is not an easy task, especially now that purchasing property isn’t the predictable money-maker it used to be. There are endless elements and amenities to consider before taking the ultimate financial leap of faith. Locally, buyers are of the careful and calculating kind. That pickiness allows Realtors to pinpoint what attracts buyers to an area or a neighborhood. In Albemarle, for example, people fancy convenience.

“People like access, access to shopping, they are looking for convenience, and that is why you are seeing a growth in northern Albemarle County, up by Hollymead,” says Daniel Rothamel of Strong Team Realtors in Palmyra. Better access to current and future shopping areas can also be credited for the increased activity in Western Albemarle and Crozet.

But access to transportation services and walkability are surprisingly not a priority.

“It’s not a huge thing,” says Rothamel. People who move here, especially to the county, know that the trade off for the tranquility and views involves driving.

“Albemarle County is so rural that there aren’t many places where you can be next to little stores and grocery stores,” says Deborah Rutter, local broker with Nest Realty.

In her experience, clients are willing to take the walkability concept and adapt it to their own needs, whether that means walking to a local park or a community pool, “maybe not to their employer, maybe not to the grocery store, but at least some part of their life is walkable,” she says.

According to Neil Goldwein, Realtor with Better Homes and Garden Real Estate III, one group sees it differently. Seniors are more dependent on transportation options and are “very concerned about the location” of where they are moving, he says.

According to Walk Score, a website that tracks the walkability of American cities, Albemarle County is car-dependent, scoring just 20 out of 100. The City of Charlottesville, on the other hand, is one of the most walkable cities in Virginia (along with Alexandria and Arlington) and unsurprisingly, Downtown is the city’s most walkable neighborhood, earning 98 points on the index.

More important to buyers than larger lifestyle choices, Rutter says, are the amenities that come with an individual house, like specific floor plans.

“More people are starting to talk about first-floor bedrooms,” she says—a must for the aging Baby Boomer population. In addition, Rothamel says finished basements and overall well-maintained properties are in high demand.

“People are less willing to have to move into a house where they have to make a lot of changes,” he says. “People are gravitating towards the more turn-key houses.”

Rutter agrees. In fact, Rutter says that one of the “big turnoffs” for buyers is “functional obsolescence,” a property that is outdated both in amenities and feel.

“[A house] could be in great shape and it could be in a great location, but because of its age, it is structured in a way in which people don’t live their lives anymore,” she says.

At the end of the day, if you’re a seller, maintaining and upgrading your property to current standards should pay off—even if your neighborhood isn’t walkable at all.

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